_____The young woman's misinformation about society reveals to the narrator more about the mutability of reputations: "the young woman was intelligent, but this difference between our two vocabularies made it both uneasy and instructive." The passage of time "prevents a newly disembarked American woman from seeing that M. de Charlus had held the highest social position in Paris at a time when Bloch had had none, and that Swann, who put himself to such trouble for M. Bontemps, had been treated with the greatest friendship by the Prince of Wales. ... [T]his ignorance ... is also an effect (but this time operating upon the individual rather than the social stratum) of Time."
I had heard, during the last years of Swann's life, even society people, when his name was mentioned say, as if it were his claim to notoriety, "You're speaking of the Swann of Colombin's?" [Swann had an affair with a woman who served tea there.] And I now heard even people who ought to have known better saying, when they were speaking of Bloch: "The Guermantes Bloch? The close friend of the Guermantes?"After a rather brutal assessment of Bloch as having "the almost frightening, deeply anxious face of an old Shylock," the narrator foresees Bloch "in ten years, in drawing-rooms like this whose inertia will have made him a leading light."
But the narrator also has an insight into how he must have appeared in his early days: "The first times I dined with Mme de Guermantes how I must have shocked men like M. de Beauserfeuil, not so much by my mere presence, as by the remarks I made, indicating that I was entirely ignorant of the memories which constituted his past and which shaped the image he had of society!" And he realizes of his still-living acquaintances, such as Charlus and Gilberte, that he "had even ceased to think of them as the same people I had once known, and that it needed a chance flash of attention to reconnect them, etymologically as it were, to the original meaning they had had for me." This disjunction between the avatars of the same person was why "at least twenty years since she had met Bloch for the first time, Mme de Guermantes would have been prepared to swear that he had been born into her world and been dandled on the knee of the Duchesse de Chartres when he was two years old."
His life begins to seem to be made up of many threads.
And today all those different threads had come together to create the web, here of the Saint-Loup household, there of the young Cambremer couple, not to mention Morel, and so many others whose conjunction had combined to create a set of circumstances that it seemed to me that the circumstances were the complete unity, and the characters merely component parts.... A simple social relationship, even a material object, if I discovered it in my memory after a few years, I saw that life had gone on weaving different threads around it which eventually became dense enough to form that inimitable, lovely, velvety loom on the years, like the accretion which in old parks shrouds a simple water-pipe in a sheath of emerald.And he becomes aware once again of the essential unknowability of other people, that "between us and other beings there is a margin of contingencies, just as I had understood in my readings at Combray that there is a margin in perception which prevents absolute contact taking place between reality and the mind.... Even with the Duchesse de Guermantes, as with certain pages of Bergotte, her charm was visible to me only at a distance and vanished when I was close to her, for it all lay in my memory and my imagination."
A conversation about whether or not the Marquise d'Arpajon is dead makes him realize that "with ordinary, very old, society people, we got confused about whether they were dead or not, not only because one knew little about, or had forgotten, their past, but because they had no connection of any sort with the future." One old woman, he observes, takes the news of the Marquise's death not as a blow, but "on the contrary, felt as if she had won a victory in a competition against distinguished competitors every time that a person her age 'disappeared.' Their deaths were the sole means by which she could still become pleasantly aware of her own life."
And then a "stout lady" greets him and it is a moment before he recognizes her as Gilberte. It's the moment that was alluded to earlier, when Gilberte says "You thought I was Mama, it's true I am beginning to look very like her." They talk about Robert and about the war, which has begun to take some of the aspect for the narrator of the Arabian Nights.